A treasured vacation to the old country

Miss Norway of Greater New York learns about cows and cousins on a Norway trip

Photos: Britt Eva Heggheim Dressed as a “Budeie,” Jillian serenades the cows at Befring, her cousins’ dairy farm.

Photos: Britt Eva Heggheim
Dressed as a “Budeie,” Jillian serenades the cows at Befring, her cousins’ dairy farm.

Jillian McDonald
Hazlet, N.J.

My trip as Miss Norway of Greater New York 2014 started out in Oslo, having a splendid time rearranging things in the airport when a strapping airport security officer greeted me sternly. Nervous and embarrassed, I turned all shades of red. The security officer turned out to be my cousin, who was having a great time at my expense. Although he saw pictures of me on Facebook from the Miss Norway of Greater New York Contest, I am still unsure how he recognized me coming off of an eight-hour flight.

I spent a few days in Oslo, which included an incredible night at the five-star Hotel Continental, one of the prizes. The highlight of Oslo was the beautiful Opera House, because it had everything a music nerd like myself wanted to see, including a beautiful view of the city. From here, on our journey west to Hallingdal, we made a special trip up the dangerously narrow and windy roads to see Stegastein, which turned out to be incredible view. In Hallingdal, we stayed in a typical Norwegian summer “hytte.” It was not your normal cabin, but rather more like an average house here in the U.S. For dinner here, my cousins made the traditional dish, rommegrøt, which was surprisingly delicious.

Photos: Britt Eva Heggheim Jillian jumps for joy near the base of the Briksdal Glacier.

Photos: Britt Eva Heggheim
Jillian jumps for joy near the base of the Briksdal Glacier.

From here, we traveled further west to Stardalen, and spent a few days at my cousin’s infamous dairy farm. I learned how to drive stick shift as I passed the cows on the road. I also learned how to shoot a gun in the backyard. Fortunately, the closest neighbors were miles away, so we did not alarm anyone. We went on my favorite hike—which was probably just a stroll for most Norwegians—passing many cows and ending up behind the base of the Briksdal Glacier. Best of all, I dressed up as a Budeie and played my clarinet for the cows. One of my cousins had found her grandmother’s dress and thought it would be perfect for me to try on a traditional Norwegian outfit. My family took pictures, which we entered into a local contest to get on a Tine milk carton. My photo won for its week, receiving many votes.

Another exciting thing I learned was from my cousin, Per, the “cow-whisperer.” Learning to milk a cow was one of my strangest experiences, but I have never felt closer to the animals. He even let me stand in the pen with the calves, which all started to eat my clothing and fingers. I do not think I have ever been tickled so much at once. Cows are one of my new favorite animals from the experiences I had with them.

Another cousin hosted a miniature family reunion of 28 Åland cousins in Stryn, at his popular fish restaurant, Bryggja. Here I was reintroduced to cousins I’d met fourteen years earlier. We ate a Norwegian delicacy, frogfish, and we discussed how it was possible to have everyone together that day. They were very interested to hear about the Miss Norway of Greater New York Contest and were excited that it was utilized as an excuse to bring some of the cousins together.

I explored the incredible city of Bergen with my cousins from the dairy farm. We went to the Ulriken and Floibanen to see the most beautiful views of the city. We also ate lunch at the world-famous fish market on the pier. We drove from Bergen back to Oslo by way of Hardangerfjord, for a completely different view of the mountains.

This was an opportunity to visit cousins that I have a great relationship with and to meet new ones. I expected to have mostly rain, so I figured that if I managed to do a few things on my list, I would be content. Fourteen gorgeous days later, I’d had the trip of a lifetime and created memories with my cousins that I will always treasure.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.